30 SES 09, ESE/ESD in the Formal School system and in Higher Education - results and learning experiences
The notion of ‘powerful knowledge’ was coined by Young (2009) as a way to restore the importance of knowledge and teaching in curriculum development and research. The concept of powerful knowledge relates to aspects of content knowledge that teaching should orient to. In this study we are investigating biology teachers’ ideas of powerful knowledge when teaching from a sustainability perspective.
Young (2009) characterizes powerful knowledge as distinct from common sense knowledge, proposing that it is systematic and its concepts are coherently related to each other, and finally it is specialized and related to specific disciplines. In doing so he draws on the ideas from Bernstein (1999) that disciplines have specific borders of concepts, contents and skills, and that it is within these borders that new scholarly knowledge is produced. Further, Young (2015a, b) claims that it is along these borders that knowledge becomes visible and meaningful to the learner and teaching in school and should therefore be organized in subjects closely related to the academic disciplines.
In a changing society the argument is being made that it is not obvious that powerful knowledge only stems from academic disciplines. As Selander wrote: “It seems obvious that our current society is in a stage of change that requires new understandings of knowledge, learning and identity formation” (2008, p. 267). The same claim has been widely propagated in the area of sustainability research were an aim for education is suggested to develop student’s action competence in order make them able to transform the world in a more sustainable way (Schnack 2000). How then should interdisciplinary topics such as sustainability be taught and organized in school? In a broad perspective, these questions can be described as powerful, while in the same time also being of multi- and cross-disciplinary nature. What is powerful knowledge in sustainability then emerges as a relevant question that we in this study explores in the context of biology education.
From a Swedish educational perspective this becomes very interesting since both core concepts of biology and generic skills as related to action competence are both visible in the steering documents. Sundberg and Wahlström (2012p. 352) conclude: “The Swedish curriculum reform of 2011 can be seen as a combination of a neo-conservative curriculum tradition (the subject tradition) and a technical instrumental curriculum ideology (labour market use, generic competences corresponding to the demands of working life)”. An area of interest is then how teachers cope with these contrasting demands from the steering documents in relation to sustainability.
Young himself recognizes that his idea of powerful knowledge and re-conceptualizing of a subject-based curriculum does not address the global transformations of society, such as sustainability issues, and how different subjects should relate to overlapping thematic issues (see Young 2015b, pp. 103-109), and he concludes: “The ‘connection’ problem has no easy solution, and there is no evidence that intellectual specialization is likely to go in reverse. For schools, I suggest, it is a pedagogic not a curriculum problem” (Young, 2015b, p.104). We suggest that these multidisciplinary issues are of great societal importance, and this is exactly where empirical research should start to explore the concept of powerful knowledge. Therefore, the overall research question guiding this study is what are biology teachers’ ideas of powerful knowledge when teaching from a sustainability perspective?
In this study we have conducted in depth semi-structured individual interview studies with five experienced biology teachers (with at least 10 years of teaching experience) that within their regular teaching also include a sustainability perspective. This was secured by selecting teachers that participated in professional development programs related to sustainability. The teachers came from two schools in a midsized Swedish town. Both schools are public with students from homes with medium socioeconomic status. A semi-structured interview was designed according to Kvale and Brinkmann (2009), and an interview guide was constructed. The interview revolved around the following issues: • What content areas within biology education are relevant to teach when using a sustainability perspective? • What concepts of biology education are relevant to teach when using a sustainability perspective? • How do you organize your teaching around these areas? • What is the purpose of teaching sustainability about these content areas? Why should students learn about these issues? • How could other school subjects with social sciences and humanities contribute to the teaching of these issues from a multi- or interdisciplinary perspective? Each interview lasted about 60 to 75 minutes. The interview consisted of three distinct phases: a briefing at the beginning, a main phase during which the issues of the bullet list above were addressed from multiple perspectives, and a debriefing phase at the end. When addressing the 2nd, 3rd and 4th issues from the bullet list above the respondents were asked to construct concept maps over central topics and concepts within biology education that they also viewed as important for sustainability education. Hence, these concept maps were constructed as the interviews progressed. The main phase of the interviews was recorded and transcribed in full. After transcription one of the researchers once again listened to the tapes and proof-read the transcripts. The data is currently being analysed and in time for the ECER-conference we expect the data analysis to be finalized. The transcribed data is analysed by thematic coding analysis (Robson, 2011). When reading the teachers’ answers, we looked for concepts and themes in biology education, which also were referred to as important from a sustainability perspective. These concepts and themes complements the data from the concept maps and represent the didactical question of what to teach? These categories will then be coded in relation to the teachers’ arguments for the two other basic didcatical questions: how to teach? And why to teach (Klafki 1997).
The expected outcome from this study will be an understanding of what happens with the content knowledge of a classical discipline when it is adapted to include a sustainability perspective. Moreover, the study will shed more light to the well-known problem of how to integrate the complex multidisciplinary perspective of sustainability into the teaching within a disciplinary based curriculum (Scott & Gough 2003). From our preliminary analysis we can see that the teachers recognize the following themes: ecology, nutrition, health, genetics, environmental problems as biology themes of relevance for Sustainability education. The powerful concepts that goes along these themes are: consistency of matter, energy, circulation of matter, ecological thinking and complexity. Hence, when only looking at the ‘what question’ we could almost see that the identified sustainable curricula of biology education are much in line with environmental education (Corney & Reid 2007). However, it is not the themes themselves that makes them relevant for sustainability education, but the teachers claim that it is the human and societal interference with biology within these themes that make them relevant. Hence, the teachers suggest that Biology education becomes Sustainability education when anthropocentric activities interferes with nature, it can be concentration of toxics in ecosystems, human interference in the carbon cycle, gene technology in genetics etc. It is the anthropocentric aspect that also have a crucial impact on the how-question. The teachers change their practices as a consequence of the human perspective. Biology is then no more only about facts, instead uncertainty and complexity is included in teaching demanding a pluralistic perspective including discussions, complexity, critical thinking etc. (Sund & Wickman 2011). However, some of the teachers, had difficulties in making this transformation, possibly explaining results s from previous studies (Borg et al. 2012). Comparative studies with teachers of other subjects are planned.
Bernstein, B. (1999). Vertical and horizontal discourse: An essay. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20, 157–173. Borg, C., Gericke, N., Höglund, H-O., & Bergman, E. (2012). The barriers encountered by teachers implementing education for sustainable development - Discipline bound differences and teaching traditions. Research in Science & Technological Education, 30(2), 185-207. Corney, G. & Reid, A. (2007). Student teachers' learning about subject matter and pedagogy in education for sustainable development. Environmental Education Research, 13(1), 33-54. Klafki, W. (1997) Kritisk-konstruktiv didaktik. In M. Uljens (ed.) Didaktik: teori, reflektion och praktik. Lund: Studentlitteratur, 215-228 Kvale S, & Brinkmann S. (2009). InterViews: Learning the Craft of Qualitative Research Interviewing. 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Robson, C. (2011). Real world research: A resource for users of social research methods in applied settings (3rd ed.). Chichester: Wiley. Schnack, K. (2000). Action competence as curriculum perspective. In B. B. Jensen, K. Schnack and V. Simovska (Eds). Critical Environmental and Health Education. Copenhagen, Research Centre for Environmental and Health Education. The Danish University of Education. Publication no 46: 107-126. Scott, W. & Gough, S. (2003). Sustainable Development and Learning. London, Routledge Falmer. Selander, S. (2008). Designs of learning and the formation and transformation of knowledge in an era of globalization. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 27, 267–281. Sund, P. & P.-O. Wickman (2011). Socialization Content in Schools and Education for Sustainable Development - I. A study of Teachers’ Selective Traditions. Environmental Education Research, 17(5), 599-624. Sundberg, N. & Wahlström, D. (2012). Standards-based curricula in a denationalised conception of education: the case of Sweden. European Educational Research Journal, 11(3), 342-356. Young, M. (2009). Education, globalization and the ‘voice of knowledge’. Journal of Education and Work, 22, 193–204. Young, M. (2015a). Powerful knowledge as curriculum principle. In M. Young, D. Lambert, C.R. Roberts, and M.D. Roberts. Knowledge and the future school: Curriculum and social justice, pp. 65-88, 2nd edition. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic. Young, M. (2015b). The progressive case for a subject-based curriculum. In M. Young, D. Lambert, C.R. Roberts, and M.D. Roberts. Knowledge and the future school: Curriculum and social justice, pp. 89-109, 2nd edition. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic.
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